Air pollution is a major problem throughout the UK and beyond, causing harm, and even death, to thousands of people each year. But, Clean Air Day, which this year takes place on 21 June, aims to raise awareness of the problem as well as encouraging people to take simple steps to reduce the pollution they create.
The organisers of Clean Air Day estimate that outdoor, or ambient, air pollution causes as many as 40,000 deaths every year. Pollution in the air we breathe has been linked to increased risks of developing lung and bladder cancer, a range of cardiovascular conditions, respiratory illnesses, and type 2 diabetes.
A recent US study has also suggested that there could be a link between a mother’s exposure to certain types of air pollution during pregnancy and high blood pressure in children. The Washington Post reports that, while there is a large body of research establishing the severe impact of air pollution on human health in general, this is the first study to show that it could harm babies in the womb.
Indoor pollution can be as bad, and in some cases, even worse. Pollution can enter from outside and become trapped and concentrated, and there are also many sources of pollution inside the home.
Dr Prashant Kumar, of the University of Surrey and founding director of the Global Centre for Clean Air Research (GCARE), said: “When we think of the term ‘air pollution’ we tend to think of car exhausts or factory fumes expelling grey smoke. However, there are actually various sources of pollution that have a negative effect on air quality, many of which are found inside our homes and offices. From cooking residue to paints, varnishes and fungal spores the air we breathe indoors is often more polluted than that outside.”
Fortunately, our homes are relatively easy to control. We can reduce the number of contaminants we create from products that release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or from burning combustibles. We can also install or upgrade ventilation systems to pump stale, dirty, or damp air while drawing in fresh air from outside and filtering it for impurities.
The outside environment is not quite so easy to control, of course, but there are simple steps we can all take to reduce the amount of pollution we contribute.
Some of these include:
Walking or cycling can reduce the amount of air pollution you create. If that is not possible, public transport can also reduce emissions compared to individual cars. Drivers can be exposed to twice as much pollution as pedestrians, and up to nine times as much as cyclists.
If you do have to drive, turning off your engine when you are stationary can reduce your emissions, as well as saving petrol. Some modern energy-efficient vehicles will do this automatically.
Talking about energy efficiency, whether you prefer cars that are black, red or yellow on the outside, getting one that is green at heart can also help cut the pollution you create when you drive. Electric and hybrid vehicles are increasingly popular as the technology advances and the cars become more affordable. In 2013, there were only 3,500 new plug-in cars registered in the UK. By May 2018, that figure had risen to more than 150,000. Consume less energy Home gas and electricity use is a major cause of air pollution. There are several things you can do to reduce your energy usage, from turning off lights to only running your washing machine on a full load and improving your insulation. Energy-efficient homes do tend to be more air-tight though, so you might need mechanical ventilation to disperse build-ups of pollution in the home.
A lot of energy is wasted in the manufacturing process of unnecessary packaging. Buying products with minimal or no packaging can help to reduce your own contributions as well as sending a message to retailers.